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A Time To Heal Chapter 5

Started by Evie, October 01, 2010, 11:51:37 AM

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Chapter Five   

   December 7, 1132
   Rhemuth Castle

   Mirjana was alone.  The boys were fast asleep, having tired themselves out playing with Ciaran MacArdry earlier in the day, then returned to Mirjana for a quiet supper, baths, and a quick story at bedtime.  Now they slept, safely in the charge of Lady Mhairi, who was savoring the opportunity to finish a bit of light reading before her own bedtime.

   She risked a quick peek into Dhugal's study and their shared living quarters, but he had apparently not returned yet from visiting his father.  It was just as well.  She had plans of her own, plans she hoped he would find pleasing, once he discovered them.

   Entering her bedchamber, she withdrew the box from Torenth from underneath the bed.  A soft silken garment lay on top, a simple but elegant house robe redolent with the aromas of some of the other contents in the box.  She considered it briefly, but then laid it aside, along with the hair combs, a lovely veil, and some spangled slippers.  No, what she sought lay deeper within, in the confines of an even smaller box.  This, she lifted out, opening its lid to pull out a tiny brass brazier with a perforated lid and a small drawstring pouch filled with an aromatic powder.  She sniffed it briefly to ensure it was what she thought.  Yes, that would serve.  Another rummage through the larger box brought forth another present she could also use, contained in a stoppered vial.

   Undressing, she surveyed herself in the disk of polished brass that served her as a mirror.  Her hair would take hours to dry if washed again, but she had washed it in the early afternoon of the previous day and now highlights gleamed in the candlelight as she unbraided it and combed a few tangles out of her ebony satin tresses before rebraiding it to pile high atop her head, tying a cloth over it once she was done to ensure the mass of braid wouldn't come tumbling down into her bathwater, undoing her careful efforts.  That done, she dipped her hand into the bathwater prepared for her earlier while she was putting the boys to bed, and just before she had dismissed the chambermaid for the night.  It was a bit cooler than she preferred in winter, merely lukewarm now, but that would encourage her not to linger overlong.

   She opened the small vial, sniffing the contents within to determine its potency, then poured a tiny amount into her bathwater—no more than a few drops—and swirled her hand around to mix the fragrance into the water.  It was attar of roses, its scent quite light due to the heavy dilution in the bathwater, but enough would linger to perfume her skin, and the oils would help to keep it soft and moist.

   She stepped into the tub, lowering herself into the fragrant waters, and inhaled deeply, enjoying the caress of the rose-scented tepid water on her skin for a few moments before reaching for a container of soft soap on the nearby table, slathering the almond-rich concoction all over to wash away the day's sweat and dirt..  Once this had been rinsed away, she opened the jar next to the soap container, scooping out the contents she had prepared earlier that morning as the boys broke their nighttime fast.  It was a paste made from ground almonds mixed with rosewater, milk, and honey.  This, she used to scrub at her skin until it glowed with vitality, then she rinsed off the excess carefully, making sure no trace of almond grit remained.

   Her ablutions done, she stepped out of the bath, patting herself dry before dabbing her skin with almond milk to retain its moisture, for the winter weather could prove drying to bathed skin.  She stood before the fireplace for a few moments, savoring its warmth, then used the fireplace tongs to pick up a coal from the hearth, transporting it to the tiny brass brazier she had found among her presents.  Over the coal, she sprinkled a pinch of the aromatic powder, placing the perforated lid over the burning incense.  The room began to fill with the mingled essences of damask rose, sandalwood, and amber.  Mirjana stood over the rising smoke,  loosening her towel to use it as a sort of curtain around her, both to shield herself from drafts and to ensure the perfumed smoke was contained so it would rise directly upwards to scent her still moist skin.

   In the outer apartment, she thought she heard a door open and close.  She held her breath, waiting to hear if footsteps might approach her chamber, but they did not.

   Now was the time to unbind and unbraid hair, letting it fall around her face like an obsidian curtain, running a fine comb through its length once more just to ensure that it was still tangle free, still silky smooth to the touch.  To do so, she had to set the towel aside, but that was fine; now the perfumed smoke rose upwards to infuse her hair with its warm fragrance.

   At last, the powder was spent.  Mirjana used a cloth to open the brazier's lid, using the tongs to return the nearly cooled coal to the hearth, then setting the brazier aside to cool.  She glanced at the silk robe on the bed, but the blanket underneath it caught her eye.  She stroked it with her fingertips, a speculative smile playing on her lips, then plucked up her courage to continue with the next stage of her plan.


   Dhugal sat in his study, taking a quick look over a letter from Lord Deveril in Cassan before heading to bed.  A soft knock on the study door interrupted him.

   "Enter," he said.  At this time of night, it could only be Mirjana, though she rarely interrupted his work once the boys were abed.  He hoped nothing was amiss.

   The door opened.  To his utter astonishment, his wife stepped into the room, hair unbound, dusky roses of color in her cheeks, clad in nothing more than a loose blanket as far as he was able to tell.

   The fur-lined blanket fell to the floor at her feet.

   If Dhugal had wondered why Nikos had felt a desire so intense for this woman, he had felt it necessary to kill in order to gain her, the thought now fled from his mind. There may well have been more beautiful women in the Eleven Kingdoms. Somewhere. At the moment, his mind was having trouble thinking of any names.  Hell, at the moment his mind couldn't even remember his own name!

   "Did you wish to try again for a son tonight, my lord?"  Shy crystal green eyes, completely at odds with the rest of the bold specimen of womanhood before him, peeked timidly at him from beneath long black lashes.

   "I think...maybe...."  Dhugal longed for a glass of chilled wine to moisten his suddenly dry mouth, or perhaps some ale, or Jesú, even a bucket of water poured over his head! It dawned on him, after a few stunned moments, that he was actually married to this woman now.  Even his father, in his more official capacity, couldn't chide him for a lack of self-control.

   He nodded. "Yes, I...believe I could manage that."


   They had ended up in his chamber, although later Dhugal couldn't quite remember how they had gotten there.

   He lay in the darkness, listening to Mirjana's quiet breathing, almost kitten-like in its softness as she lay sleeping beside him. He felt a surge of unexpected tenderness towards her as he watched her sleep, wondering what had brought on her sudden urge to seduce him.  Her plan had worked quite thoroughly, of course; he was hardly made of stone, as much as part of him might have argued otherwise earlier in the evening, but why had she done so?

   He'd been quite neglectful of his bride, he realized.   He hadn't meant to be, exactly; he'd simply needed more time to adjust to the idea of being married again, and he'd just assumed she would need more time as well.  Especially given how she had been treated in her first marriage.  

   Now it was clear that he needed to be a more dutiful husband towards her, though if this night's surprise were anything to go by, some of that duty would be far from onerous.  There were other, far less pleasant responsibilities that he had towards her, though, and one which his conversation with his father earlier in the evening had reminded him of, which he could not continue to put off indefinitely.

   He had no idea how he was going to broach the topic, how he'd gently bring up the subject of his own people to her, and the probable lack of welcome she would receive from them once they returned to Cassan.  The high likelihood that she would actually be safer remaining in Rhemuth, at least for the time being, even though he would have to return to his lands shortly after Twelfth Night Court.  She had, of course, already noticed several furtive glances and heard bits of whispered gossip about her here and there since coming to Rhemuth, both before her marriage to him and in the days after, but she had attributed those stares and whispers to her former marriage to Lord Nikos, and for the most part she had been correct in her assumption that this was why some people distrusted her.  But in Cassan, the feelings against her would likely be even more hostile, and even more personal, though for entirely different reasons.  Lord Deveril's letter, the one which had arrived earlier in the day, had done little to reassure him that the case might be otherwise.

   He dreaded the task of telling her.  Not simply because the telling would be unpleasant but also because he had just dimly started to realize that the odd look he occasionally caught in her eyes as she watched him was something akin to hero worship, and he was reluctant to shatter that regard, misplaced though it was.  He found it flattering, touching even.  But he could hardly keep silent simply to preserve her admiration; that would be selfish of him.  And the self-centeredness of his grief had already caused enough pain for too many people, and would continue to do so in the months—possibly even years—to come.  He hardly wanted to add to that injury by maintaining his silence just because that would be the easier course for the short term.

   No, she must be told.  Even if it meant risking her shy admiration turning first into shock, then contempt and disdain towards him for having married her, placing her in such a difficult situation, when he should have known better than to even offer for her.  He hoped it wouldn't come to that.  Despite his earlier misgivings, the second thoughts he'd begun to have immediately after securing the betrothal with her, and the dread with which he'd entered their marriage, he had actually started to grow a bit fond of the lady.

   He thought back to his ardent reaction to her earlier that evening, and her shy yet eager response, flushing slightly in the darkness at the memory.   All right, perhaps more than a bit fond.  There was definitely a shared attraction, he had to admit, and at least the potential for deeper feelings to grow between them.  That first tentative mind-link they'd shared tonight had shown him that much.  He wasn't certain now if he was glad he'd formed that link with her or not, although as rapport went, it hadn't run all that deep, mainly focusing on the physical aspects on their shared pleasure rather than on forging more intimate emotional bonds or allowing a level of mental rapport that neither was quite ready for yet.  All the same, it would make the news he had to share with her all that much harder for him to tell her.

   He rolled slightly to one side, studying Mirjana's features in the pale light streaming in through the nearby window.  A faint shadow of a smile still lurked in the corners of her kiss-swollen lips.  He drew her close, rearranging the blanket over her with a suppressed sigh before brushing a final light kiss across her slumbering cheek and settling back onto his pillow, allowing sleep to finally overtake him.


   December  8, 1132
   Rhemuth Castle

   Mirjana woke up just before dawn, sheltered in the circle of her sleeping husband's arm.  She stiffened momentarily, then remembered she was married to the Cassani Duke now, not Lord Nikos.

   She turned over, burying her warm cheeks in her new husband's bare chest.  She had not meant to fall asleep in his bed, but she was grateful he hadn't turned her away, waking her to send her back to her own bedchamber, for she liked this feeling of waking up to find him holding her even in his sleep.  It made her feel loved.  She knew it was just an illusion, of course, but at least for a few blissful moments she could pretend her childhood dreams were coming true.  After all, the poet hadn't lied about the Gates of Paradise, even if it had taken her so long to find her wings of bliss and fly there.  So why should he have lied about the possibility of love finding her someday?

   For now, she would settle for merely being desired.  Eventually, maybe, he might even come to care for her.  She hoped so.

   She breathed in his scent, letting her eyes drift shut, savoring the silence before the start of a new day.  Once the sun rose, there would be the wary eyes and guarded whispers to face once more, she knew.  But for this moment, in the arms of this man who had offered her his surety and his protection, she felt completely safe.

Chapter 6:
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!


OK, I think that definitely counts as progress! :D



Well, as another fantasy writer once wrote, spontaneity is all well and good, but there's a certain charm to a well-planned seduction.  (I'm paraphrasing because I don't remember the quote exactly.)

More good stuff, Evie.   Thanks!
"If having a soul means being able to feel love, loyalty, and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans."

James Herriot (James Alfred "Alfie" Wight), when a human client asked him if animals have souls.  (I don't remember in which book the story originally appeared.)


Thank you!  Actually, the fur blanket scene is the first one I ever wrote for this story.  I wrote it back in August while still working on "The Killing Season" (which, in turn, was inspired by a dream I had), when I was looking ahead to this story and wondering how Mirjana might get Dhugal to start noticing her as something besides simply a woman in need of protection who would also be capable of producing future heirs.  I figured, given their circumstances, that she would fall for him far quicker than he'd reciprocate, so by this point she'd be desperate enough to want to do a bit of attention-grabbing.   :D

Besides, I figured they both needed a chance to bond a bit...call it the calm before the storm....   ;D
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!


*Wonders about the marketing possibilities of a fur blanket like hers, with a couple of Celsie spells*

Well, I suppose that could be one way to increase the birth rate in Gwynedd after the plague!  :)


So if a post-fever-flux baby boom happens, we're looking at a bunch of babies born in June of 1133, nine months after that magically induced first-frost in early September?   :D
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!